Yes! Yes! This is Carlinville!
That was the question I have been asked by a number of people these past two weeks.
“Did you think you had died and gone to heaven, or …” — and I better stop the question right there!
We first need to take a look at how different life was, over all, in 1947 — not only here in Carlinville, but in big cities as well.
When our four children left home to “seek their fortune” and get their post-high school education in the 1960s, we were lucky if we could get them into a new pair of blue jeans and a shirt with a collar.
When I got to Union Station in downtown Chicago to get on the train to come to a place called Carlinville, I was absolutely, properly dressed in a tailored (that means “non-fussy”) blue-checked suit, white silk blouse, spotless white gloves, silk stockings, a blue felt hat, and plain navy blue high heels! My navy blue purse completed the outfit.
I knew I was “in style” because every other girl in the train car that was loaded with Carlinville-bound students was dressed just like I was. Colors might have been different, but “dressed properly” was the order of the day!
And the boys weren’t far behind. They appeared in “go to church” trousers, dress shirt, tailored jacket, matching tie and polished shoes! I’m assuming they wore socks. I didn’t look to see.
Each young person had at least two tightly-packed suitcases. Many had a trunk as well, filled with sheets, pillows, blankets, extra shoes, extra clothes, a reading light, etc., and some carted portable radios and record players — and I mean record players.
That entire luggage was loaded into an attached freight car that rode the rails behind our passenger car.
Yes, there we were, recent high school graduates, absolute strangers to each other, crammed into one railroad car on our way to life in Carlinville, Illinois.
The train was carrying us on the journey because most ordinary city families had no car, and WWII had made family cars even less available.
Besides that, most BU students came from hard-working families who were thrilled to be able to offer college to their children.
But most families could not afford a gas-guzzling, horn-honking car for their college lads and lassies.
Blackburn’s work plan made the college opportunity available; but, it was the education and future opportunities that we were “buying.” College was a precious first opportunity for most of these families and young people.
During the four-hour trip, we young students began making friendships that would — and in many cases did — end up in life-long friendships, and in some cases, marriage!
If nothing else, in the next two years, the group would gain a lot about learning together, living together, working together through the innovative “work program” offered at B.U.
Even more, the students would learn about small-town living, especially in a town like Carlinville and all it had to offer.
The train ride started out quietly but by the time we reached Bloomington, chatter was well under way.
When we pulled into Springfield, most of the passengers craned their neck to get their first glimpse ever of the state capitol. Ordinary people did not do a lot of traveling in those days. In many respects, the ride was an education all in itself, for many of the students had never been far enough out of the city to see acres and acres of corn bending in the breeze and herds of cows and pigs penned up outside of big barns and silos that dotted the horizons.
I remember asking someone what those tall, round-roofed “towers” were that were scattered all over the landscape.
The answer was silos. OK, so the answer was silos. And that meant? It was a word I would come to learn a lot about in the decades ahead.
Once the train pulled out of Springfield, the conductor came through to warn us that the next stop was CARLINVILLE!
We needed to be ready to vacate the train as soon as we stopped. We hovered at the windows looking for BUILDINGS! — big buildings, brick buildings, factories — anything to assure us that we were going some place.
We saw plenty of farm fields, barns, pickup trucks and even tractors as the train nudged its way through the fields and crossed dirt roads.
Finally, the conductor came through the car.
“Get yourselves gathered together!” he called out. “We are just about to Carlinville. Be ready to get off the train as fast as possible or you’ll end up in St. Louis.”
The train brakes whispered and squeaked as the train began to slow down. A few houses began to appear. We passed by two narrow streets. Finally, we slowed to a halt and pulled up in front of a typical one-story, wooden train station.
We saw the CARLINVILLE sign as the train stopped. The conductors opened the sliding door and we began to step down and out. We looked around while our luggage was tossed out of the freight car.
WHAT did we see? WELL! We saw a pretty big SHELL station on the right side of the street with a big BOENTE sign.
And across the street a long, low building that looked like a train car with a big sign on the roof “THE SPOT! THE BEST FOOD IN TOWN!”
And then a small building that looked like a BAR! WOW!!
And then we saw about a dozen empty-bedded pick up trucks, each one manned by young and what looked like “good-looking” high school and college boys!
It was quickly clear that the trucks and the boys had come to the station to offer rides to the newly-arriving students. Mercy!
Those Carlinville boys were ambitious trunk and suitcase handlers, and some even offered a ride to the girls who climbed off the train.
Blackburn had also sent its own truck and faculty members in their cars to pick up students and luggage. But somehow the “native” boys ended up delivering more girls than boys to campus and collecting names besides. It was obviously an unofficial but traditional “welcome” to the new co-eds on the part of the “townies.”
We had arrived, and life was never the same for most of us. Carlinville, its history, traditions, values and steadfastness seeped into the hearts of many of us, especially those of us who stayed “for a lifetime” and learned to enjoy, take part in, and treasure life in the lessons learned at Blackburn and in this central part of Illinois.
One quick reminder: While most of the students who came to Carlinville as Blackburn students returned to their “growing up” places when they graduated, or moved on to other areas of the country, many have come and stayed and made the town their home.
They have added their own personalities and abilities to the town and in the weeks ahead, we will attempt to remind ourselves of the people and events that have made this a fine place to live and raise a family.
Any comments or questions for Ann? Just send them along to the Macoupin County Enquirer-Democrat.